Kid Idols! Natalie Hampton's Anti-Bullying 'Sit With Us' App
Our children grow up in a world where they’re expected to play, to perform, and possibly to mind their manners. And by all means….#lethembelittle. BUT….do they feel empowered? Inspired? Do they know that they can really do something great…no matter how big or little that thing might be?
Too often, the world can make you feel so small with its comments, “You’re just a kid”…"You’re too little" pushing you into irrelevance, weakness, or worse when what you really need is to know you can be great.
Our Kid Idols series offers up some truly amazing role models across all fields who inspire us with their passion, their talent, and their refusal to be “just a kid.” Share these stories with your own children and show them that they can be little and mind-blowingly awesome.
Sixteen-year-old Natalie Hampton of Sherman Oaks, CA., has created a unique anti-bullying app called Sit With Us. It’s a way for kids to fight against bullying not with their fists, but with their phones.
The free app allows students to reach out to tormented or ostracized classmates and let them know they are welcome to join them at their tables in the school cafeteria. Kids can look at the list of “open lunches” in the app and see that they have an invitation to join with zero chance of rejection. “Sit With Us ambassadors take a pledge that they will welcome anyone who joins and include them in the conversation. To me, that is far better than sitting alone,” said Natalie.
Natalie’s app makes it anonymous, which cuts out the awkwardness of walking up to a lunch table and getting rejected in person, because let’s face it, that’s an experience that can be beyond devastating for most high schoolers. This way shy students can stay under the radar, signing on secretly before they head to welcome tables.
Natalie knows what it’s like to have to eat lunch all by herself. She spent lunchtime alone for her entire seventh grade year. But it goes deeper than that: She knows what it’s like to be brutally bullied. “I had bruises on my body from being punched with fists or shoved into lockers, I was slapped and had my hair tied in knots, and I still have a scar on my left hand from when a girl clawed me with her nails and drew blood,” the teen revealed in an interview with TODAY Parents. “I was told by my classmates that I’m ‘so ugly it’s scary’ and ‘Everyone hates you.’ In addition to that, I was cyber-bullied,” she said.
“Apart from the attacks, the worst thing was being treated as an outcast and having to eat lunch alone every day. I believe that being isolated branded me as a target. All I wanted was to have just one person who had my back.” After switching schools in ninth grade, Natalie found supportive new friends, but she never forgot how it felt to be the outsider. “Whenever I saw someone eating alone, I would ask that person to join our table, because I knew exactly how they felt. I saw the look of relief wash over their faces,” she said. Now, thanks to the app, finding a friendly face at lunchtime is piece of cake.
Natalie talked with All Things Considered podcast host Audie Cornish recently, and explained, “When you walk into the lunchroom and you see all the tables of everyone sitting there and you know that going up to them would only end in rejection, you feel extremely alone and extremely isolated, and your stomach drops. And you are searching for a place to eat, but you know that if you sit by yourself, there’ll be so much embarrassment that comes with it because people will know and they’ll see you as the girl who has nowhere to sit. So, there’s so many awful feelings that come along with it.”
Reports have shown that when students ― especially the so-called cool kids ― reject bullying behavior by their classmates, it has a significant impact. In a study conducted by Princeton, Rutgers and Yale University during the 2012-2013 school year, over fifty New Jersey middle schools provided their “coolest” students with social media tools and encouragement to battle bullying, and saw a 30 percent reduction in student conflicts.
The app is just one step in the right direction, but it can lead to much greater accomplishments, she believes. “Lunch may seem like a small thing, but over time, I think this kind of program can shift the dynamic, so that kids are nicer to other kids in the classroom, or outside of the classroom, and not just at the lunch table. It brings people together with the possibility that they will make new friends.”
Natalie says that teachers and parents can be a part of the solution by helping to coordinate Sit With Us programs, facilitate discussions during lunch with a group, or organize assemblies that can help build friendships between students. However, she thinks that students are the most important participants. “My high school places a great deal of emphasis on community service and what it means to be a global citizen, and I think that is why it is generally a kind and welcoming place. In terms of fighting against bullying, I believe that student-led initiatives are much more effective than say, an assembly where an adult lectures kids to not bully.”
Natalie’s Sit With Us app is now being used all over the country. Kudos to a brave and clever teen who not only found a way to rise above the negativity, but to help others at the same time.
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